Some places just have that certain something. The French have a phrase for it: ‘zat certain sumsing!’ Quirky spots you stumble upon and tell stories about. Lesser known marvels like bonkers bars, rickety restaurants or curious museums where the curator’s cats run wild. It’s not about price or prestige, no, no. It’s all charm and character. Places with personality. That’s a GLP, my friend. Come in and explore, then go out and explore.
‘Look for the double green gates’ were the instructions. As we passed a few confused-looking hungry people (Hackney Wick is a veritable maze) we eventually found our way into a myriad of workshops, doors, outhouses and, eventually, a sublime smell of spices and a bustling ambience through the door to Zoe’s home: The Ghana Kitchen.
Although it’s called the Ghanaian Kitchen, this is no African themed joint. There’s a refreshing boho feel to the place which isn’t pretentious or forced. Large groups of young culture vultures and artists moved around the space, often from table to table, like old friends reunited. Whilst the food was amazing (more of that in a bit), the space was the star, industrial shabby chic-ness and a rough and ready feel made it more an experience than a formal dinner, and that was the beauty Zoe’s pop-up.
Zoe, wearing a colourful crown fashioned out of several bendy balloons (it was the Jubilee after all, hence this, ahem, ‘celebration’) greeted us with a hug and a kiss and we were shown to our candle-lit little table. Having spent some time in Sierra Leone in the past, my palate is accustomed to the home-cooked savoury tastes of West Africa, but Ghanaian food is relatively new to me, bar a couple of classics. A mere £20 gets you 3 courses and a glass of wine and Zoe and Laura presided over the whole evening as both chefs and servers, talking us through the menu, making recommendations and answering any questions we might have. The menu was chalked up in front of us as we were served a fruity red wine and left to make our choices.
There is one starter, and only one dish needed: Red Red, a popular dish in Ghana made from cowpeas (black-eyed beans), combined with red pepper and palm oil and a delicately spicy sauce. Served with a wedge of chewy, moist soda bread, it was very moreish and wolfed down quickly. The atmosphere was getting lively and buzzy, with a packed young crowd occupying the eating area whilst we watched Zoe and Laura eagerly cook and serve everything from scratch – no microwaving here.
On to the mains, and I plumped for a favourite dish – Jaloffi Rice with Chicken. The hotness of the scotch bonnet peppers in the rice was tempered by the fruity tanginess of the other spices and was not at all too hot, whilst the chicken was hot, moist and generously seasoned. Stephanie, my partner in crime for the evening, went for Zoe’s ‘classic’ Peanut Butter Stew with lamb. I’m not a fan of sweet and savoury but this was sensational – tender chunks of lamb, combined with vegetables including beautifully cooked yam and served with a generous portion of plantain. We immediately both had food envy and shared each other’s dishes avidly.
The pudding, like the starter, offered only one choice and boy was it a good one. Rosie, on an adjacent table, was pointed out to us as being the creator of the night's banoffee pie, which was light, gentle, creamy and… gone in 60 seconds. We congratulated her on a re-invention of a standard dish which had taken on a new lease of life, Ghanaian-style.
When I say this is Zoe’s ‘home’ I really mean it. Both Stephanie and I found ourselves chancing on a bedroom or two en-route to the loo, and the whole evening had a laid-back, gorgeously relaxed feel to it.
One of the most heart-warming evenings of great company and exquisite food we’ve had in a long time.
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